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60,000 Customs, Border Patrol agents face furloughs

Mar. 7, 2013 - 04:51PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Some 60,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and other employees will be furloughed for up to 14 days, according to notices dated Thursday. The furloughs could begin April 21 and last through the end to the fiscal year in September.
Some 60,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and other employees will be furloughed for up to 14 days, according to notices dated Thursday. The furloughs could begin April 21 and last through the end to the fiscal year in September. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Some 60,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and other employees will be furloughed for up to 14 days, according to notices dated Thursday. The furloughs could begin April 21 and last through the end to the fiscal year in September, according to the notice, which attributes the move to across-the-board budget cuts that began taking effect March 1.

“I am keenly aware of the financial impact of a furlough on each CBP employee,” Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar said in an email to workers earlier this week. “We will implement only the absolute minimum number of furlough days required within CBP’s budget.”

The agency is also freezing hiring, reducing overtime and comp time, and curtailing travel and training, Aguilar said.

Because of budget uncertainties, the number of furlough hours per pay period may vary, according to Thursday’s notice. If furloughs are needed, employees will be told before each pay period how much unpaid time off they’ll need to take off “to allow CBP to meet its financial obligations,” it added.

A copy of the agency notice was provided by the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some 24,000 CBP staff. The agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

The cutbacks will add to airport wait times, affect CBP’s ability to collect revenue and slow screening programs for travelers entering the United States, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress in a January letter outlining the potential effects of the cuts, formally known as a sequester.

“These impacts will only get worse the longer sequestration continues, especially as the busy summer travel season approaches,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley added in a Thursday news release.

The furloughs will also affect some 20,000 Border Patrol agents who are part of CBP. For those employees, the lost pay stemming from the furloughs will be severely aggravated by the agency’s decision last month to end overtime hours that are routinely built into agents’ work schedules, Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, in a Thursday interview. With fewer agents in the field, he said, “It’s just going to make the border a more dangerous place.”

The council, a part of the American Federation of Government Employees, is encouraging employees to file grievances over the furloughs, and is also considering a lawsuit over the planned overtime cut, which is scheduled to take effect late next month, Moran said.

While Border Patrol agents are not happy about the furloughs, he said, “what they’re very upset about is that we’re being singled out for additional salary cuts.”

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